8 Nintendo Products That Aren’t Video Games

Although Nintendo is one of the most iconic brands in video game history, the company was in business for nearly a century before the NES, Game Boy, or even Mario were ever dreamed up. Founded in 1889, the Kyoto, Japan-based company was known as Nintendo Koppai in its formative years and primarily made different types of playing cards before branching off into toys and board games. Here are 8 non-video game products from Nintendo’s near-127-year history.


One of Nintendo’s most popular playing card series was the Ehon Trump, a kind of picture book that featured TV-shaped boxes with famous Japanese cartoons and comic book characters inside (think Astro Boy and Ultraman). In 1959, the company acquired a license from Disney to produce toys and games for the Japanese market, and added such beloved characters as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to the lineup.


After decades of producing playing cards, Nintendo expanded to the toy and game market in 1964 with Rabbit Coaster, a game in which players raced colored beans down a series of descending tracks and levels to the finish line. The game’s popularity led Nintendo to release a whole series of “coaster” games, including My Car Race, Punch Race, and a sequel to Rabbit Coaster.


Struggling against heavyweights like Bandai in the Japanese toy market, Nintendo turned to up-and-coming designer Gunpei Yokoi to brainstorm some fresh ideas for the company. In 1966, Yokoi unveiled Ultra Hand, a plastic grabber toy that could expand and contract with its handles. The toy became a smash hit in Japan and was Nintendo’s first product to sell more than one million units.

Fun Fact: In 1989—more than two decades later—Gunpei Yokoi also created the Game Boy for Nintendo.


In 1972 Nintendo released Mach Rider, a battery-powered race car that rested on a ramp connected to gauges and a gear shift, into the Japanese toy market. When its user would shift from one gear to the next, the car would charge and increase speed while docked. Once the user shifted into fourth gear, the Mach Rider would shoot off the ramp.


In 1967, following the success of Ultra Hand, Gunpei Yokoi created Ultra Machine, a battery-powered pitching machine that came with ping pong balls and a colorful plastic bat. The toy became another hit for Nintendo, and gave the company the opportunity to branch out into foreign markets. When the Ultra Machine was released in the United States and Australia, Nintendo changed its name to Slugger Mate, as the “Ultra” brand was only recognizable in Japan.


Released in the mid-1960s, Magic Roulette was aimed squarely at the adult market. The sophisticated roulette game came with plastic betting chips, a playing field, metal ball bearings, and a roulette wheel, plus playing cards. Magic Roulette could be played as traditional roulette or a variation of five-card poker using five ball bearings during a spin instead of just one.   


In 1971 Nintendo released the Light Telephone, a two-way walkie-talkie that used transmitted light for communication instead of radio waves. Rather than market the Light Telephone to children, Nintendo targeted it as a novelty item for tech-savvy adults. It was only available in Japan, but it got some attention in Popular Science as a “walkie-talkie flashlight.” 


In the late 1970s, Nintendo released a small, radio-controlled vacuum cleaner as a game. It was called Chiritori, which means “dustpan” in Japanese. Although Chiritori could actually pick up dust and other gunk off a floor, it was intended to be a toy, not an actual household cleaning device. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chiritori wasn’t a bestseller for Nintendo; the company only made a limited amount of units, and the toy was discontinued shortly after its release.

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Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
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Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Nervous System
Every Laser-Cut 'Geode' Jigsaw Puzzle is One of a Kind
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Nervous System

If you haven’t picked up a boxed jigsaw puzzle in a while, trust that they’ve undergone a serious transformation since your childhood. One of the most innovative companies in the category is Nervous System, a self-described “generative design studio” that composes computer programs to create puzzles based on patterns found in nature.

Their latest project, Geode, is a line of jigsaw puzzles modeled after agate stone. Like the rest of Nervous System’s puzzle inventory, it has an unusual and dynamic design; it's meant to mimic the band pattern of actual agate created by trapped gas in volcanic stone.

Several geode puzzles are shown
Nervous System

According to Nervous System’s site: “To create the organic shape of the pieces, we designed a system based the simulation of dendritic solidification, a crystal growth process similar to the formation of snowflakes that occurs in supercooled solutions of certain metallic alloys. By varying the parameter space, the system can produce a variety of cut styles. Each puzzle produced features its own unique landscape of interlocking shapes. No two are alike.”

Though lovely to look at, the puzzles utilize Nervous System's "Maze" piece-cutting method, which results in irregular and distorted shapes that may prove "fiendishly difficult" for some.

The 8.5-inch puzzles are made from plywood and feature 180 pieces. You can grab one for $60 at Nervous System’s online shop.

[h/t MyModernMet]


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